Saturday, April 24, 2010

Never ask Sweetie to be more specific... (Sweetie's Hunk of The Week 59)

Are you following me on Twitter? Don't lie... I can tell. Click here to do that, then come back to this post to see who the 59th Hunk of the Week is. Spoiler Alert! It's

David Lyons!

Oops! Sorry. That's David Lyons, the British actor who played a skinhead in some British TV series. Let me try again.

David Lyons!

No, no. That's the the David Lyons who's the rugby player for the Australian National Rugby Team. Sigh. One more time:


David Lyons...


You Don't Know Him Without You Have: the ability to figure out which "David Lyons" Sweetie is talking about, which requires, first, that you remember the name of the guy who's been staring out from your laptop all week long. I asked Sweetie three times this week who this guy was, and each time she told me and it just shot straight through my mind without lodging there even a little. Even now, I have to look back up at the caption to remember his name. There's something not so memorable about this guy.

And apparently Sweetie agrees with me, because when I asked what he's been in, she said "ER," which is a show that (a) I thought Sweetie never watched, and (b) I thought nobody ever watched. What's so great about medical shows, and how can anyone stand to watch more than one of them, ever? I tried to watch House for a while, until I realized that each show was interchangeable, like a TV show Mad Lib:

House: This ______________ (mammal) is _________________ (action) of __________________ (latiny phrase).

Person that's not House: It's no use. We'll never cure him.

House: ________________(expletive.) I didn't become a _______________(occupation) to not _________________ (verb) ______________(same mammal as before) like this! We've got to save him!

Other person that's not House: I'm having a personal crisis that will serve as a soon-abandoned subplot to this show but will also lead you off on some tangent that ultimately supplies the answer to your problem

House: That's it! Let's go off to the _______________________________(random location like, say, haunted amusement park!)

Woman that's in a position of power: You're _________________ (verb dealing with employment, or adjective dealing with sexiness.)

House: I just remembered! At _________________ (same random locations) there's always _________________ that causes this_____________!

Mammal: House! You saved my life! And you're my father!

I assume ER was the same way, but, like I said, nobody ever watched it, so there's really no way of telling. ER is the 30 Rock of yesteryear: a show everybody pretends to watch but doesn't really watch.

Let's move on to:

Thing That Makes You Go Hmmm About Him: He's not in this video, for one thing:

But that's because he's not in anything, except maybe ER, which, as I said, doesn't count. David Lyons -- this David Lyons:

Hasn't been in anything, so far as I could tell. Or maybe he has. Who knows? He's completely unmemorable . He might be in the C+C Music Factory, for all I know.

That sure is a catchy song. If David Lyons:

Did write it, or rap it, or something, then good for him!

Actually, though, having just gone to this David Lyons:

IMDB page, I'm not so sure, now, that he's not the Rugby David Lyons, because one of the David Lyonses graduated from some Australian school, and this David Lyons:

Is wearing the Australian flag on his shoulder. (Knowing the flags of every country in the Southern Hemisphere is one of the talents that sets me apart from other people. I can name them all:

Papua New Guinea:



See? I got sidetracked again. It looks like David Lyons:

Can't hold my attention for very long. Might as well go to:

Reason I Assumed Sweetie Liked Him: Given that David Lyons is completely unmemorable, and starred in what can only be referred to as the dark matter of television (if he starred in it; who knows?) I'm guessed that Sweetie likes him the way people like, vanilla: for no particular reason. Vanilla is the default of flavors, and David Lyons is the default of hunks: they're both what you come up with when you can't think of something else.

Actual Reason Sweetie Likes Him: I asked her earlier in the week, and she said somethng bland like "he's so cute," or something. I then said "You've got to be more specific about why you like these guys." So this morning, I asked her again, and she said:

"He's got great hair, the kind you could run your fingers through: nice, thick curly hair. He's got sweetie Bambi eyes. He's the kind of guy you know you could take home to your parents but he could turn around and be a wildcat."

Point I'd Like To Make About Sweetie's Actual Reason For Liking Him: Wait, what? I said to be more specific, not write an erotic thriller starring you and him! Plus, I could totally be a wildcat, if I wanted to. Totally. As soon as I'm done looking at the flags of the southern hemisphere, and writing my House fanfiction. (I'm up to the part where House and I play miniature golf -- which is when he realizes that the patient is suffering from a condition that somehow mimics a golfball not making it through the windmill on the 17th hole!)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Not shaking the grass (Friday's Sunday's Poem/Hot Actress 50)

And The Days Are Not Full Enough

Ezra Pound

And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass


About the poem: I was surprised to learn that Ezra Pound had written something other than In a Station of the Metro, a poem that would make a great TV series, but which also constituted the sum and substance of everything I ever read by Ezra Pound before today. Then I sat down today to pick the poem, and I thought "I wonder what else Ezra Pound wrote?" So I looked up his poems, and I read one, which was only okay, and then I read this one, which I liked. So now I've read three Ezra Pound poems.

About the actress: I read an interview of Catherine Keener in this week's Newsweek, and most of the interview was about how hard Catherine Keener tries to avoid fame and talking about herself. Normally, that kind of thing irritates me all to heck, but Catherine Keener was the only good thing about The 40 Year Old Virgin, and she was also in Being John Malkovich, and it kind of seem genuine with her, too, so I decided to give her a pass.

Have you figured out why I hate people yet? I'm giving you all sorts of clues, on Twitter and in a blog.

1001 Ways Is Already Changing The World! part 2:

The world is starting to take notice of my genius -- which means things are getting better for you. That's what this is all about, after all: improving the world for you. And making me rich. That's a big part of it.

The two latest 1001 Ways to be adopted by society? Way number 20: I said Why not have radio-DVRs to let me pause and record live radio. And less than a year later, it is so: The Lexus IS F has as 40GB hard drive in it, and is being promoted in ads on TV as letting you pause live radio... just like a DVR.

1001 Ways also helped change the world here!

Prior entries:

13. Ban driving any kind of automobile, motorcycle or other personal vehicle within 1-2 miles of downtown in any city with a population of more than 100,000.

12. Abolish gym class; instead, teach kids to play musical instruments.

11. Change copyright laws to allow anyone to use anyone else's creative work provided that the copier pay 60% of the profit to the originator and that the copier not cast the original work in a negative light.

10. Have more sidewalk cafes and outdoor seating.

9. When you have to give someone a gift, ask them what they want, and then get that thing for them.

8. Never interrupt or finish someone's jokes.

7. Periodically, give up something you like for at least a month.

6. Switch to "E-money."

5. Have each person assigned one phone number, and then add an extension for the various phones and faxes that person might be reached at.

4. Abolish Mondays and Tuesdays.

3. Don't listen to interviews with athletes or comedians.

2. Have "personal cashiers" at the grocery store.

1. Don't earn more than $200,000 per year.

Claudius wanted to be the first man to reach the stars... but it was murder to get there. Read
Eclipse, the haunting sci-fi book from Briane Pagel. Available at and on your Kindle.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Question of the Day, 69:

Why is raspberry flavor always blue in drinks?

Yesterday, the guys on the Dan Patrick show were talking about Icees and Slushees, and commented on how great they always tasted and looked. One of the guys (I can't tell them apart) said "What flavor is blue, anyway?"

That was a dumb question: everyone knows it's blue raspberry, but that made me wonder (clear through to today) why is raspberry always blue in drinks?

Raspberries, after all, aren't blue. Regular raspberries are red. And, after looking into it, I found that blue raspberry flavor is modeled on whitebark raspberries, which are shown in the picture on this post, and are also not blue.

But beyond that, if you google Why is blue raspberry blue, you get... nothing.

I'm showing a page from "White Noise" but secretly Muhammad is hiding behind that book. (3 Good Things From 4/21/10)

If I don't get to these by the afternoon, I shouldn't even post them. But I still do. Here's my 3 Good Things I'm focusing on today:

1. Lost-ercising: Last night, I put my new exercise program into action. Previously, I would get up in the morning and do either 30 sit-ups, or some light arm -weights, or jump and jog on the exercise trampoline Mr F uses for 20 minutes. Then, twice a week I'd go swimming or running.

I cut out the sit-ups after my pants got tight; I prefer to blame sit-ups rather than delicious cheeseburger Doritos. Then I decided that I could do the trampoline at night, and combine it with the weightlifting, because I like to use the mornings for writing/eating toast with Mr Bunches. So I decided to work out every other day -- all odd-numbered days, rotating between swimming, running, and trampolining. And, to make things even better, I decided that on trampolining nights, I'd do that while watching an episode of Lost.

Last night was the first Lost-ercising, when I worked out with weights and trampoline and watched Episode 1 of Season 4. Man, that show keeps on getting better and better and better, and I'm relieved that [SPOILER ALERT! FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE TRAVELED BACK IN TIME TO 2007 BUT ARE SOMEHOW READING THIS] Charlie made an appearance, even if it was in (maybe) ghost form?

2. The "White Noise" pop-up book. I love Pop-up books; every book should have at least a few pop-ups in it (although I'm not sure how that'll work on a Kindle.) My newest favorite in the Pop-Up book category is the White Noise pop-up, a book full of abstract artsy pop-ups that Mr Bunches and I read at the library last night.

We'd gone to the library at 5 because Mr Bunches wanted to go for a ride, so I opted to take him and Mr F to the library, where we read some books (including White Noise) and encouraged Mr F to use his library voice. He never did get the hang of that, so we left a little earlier than we'd planned.

3. The revelation of who Eric Cartman's dad was on the South Park episode last night. Amidst the threats to kill the creators of South Park, the hilarity and genius of the two-part episode that finished up last night is going to be lost, which is a shame, because the creators managed to make a great storyline and avoid the lazy "Let's parody something" that too many cartoon shows fall into - -and the best of all was the final revelation of who, exactly, was Eric Cartman's dad.

Sweetie, I should note, saw it coming: a few minutes before they revealed who the Head Ginger was and who Eric's dad was, Sweetie predicted it.

122 down, 10,828 to go
: I listened to this song while cleaning up the kitchen last night after Mr F, Mr Bunches, and I came in from playing in the backyard. It's a pleasant song to mop the kitchen to: Mend My Heart by Alli Millstein.

(The video is the one I made to help feature Alli as The November And December MiniBests On The Best Of Everything.)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

If you hand Mr Bunches a loaded gun, you've got to expect something to happen, I guess. (3 Good Things From 4/20/10)

Starting tomorrow, this blog will likely be written by a $252-millionaire. I've got 5 tickets for tonight's Powerball drawing, and since I specified to the clerk that I wanted the winning tickets, it's pretty much a lock. Until I get rich, here's my 3 Good Things from yesterday.

1. The tree in our yard that I thought might be dying may actually be a flowering tree of some sort. Back when we first moved in, there was a small, about 4' tall tree, growing right next to the back wall of our house. My dad advised moving it so that its roots didn't dig into our basement, so we did that, about seven years ago. Since then, it's sort of hung in there, growing a couple of leaves here and there before giving up for the summer.

Yesterday, playing in the yard with the Babies!, I stopped to look at it, because it looks bare and I thought I might have to get rid of it. But upon closer inspection, the tree has tiny little leaves and tiny little purplish buds growing all over it, so this might be the year the tree finally comes into its own.

2. Graham crackers with honey-nut cream cheese spread. That was my dessert for dinner. I offered some to Mr Bunches, who didn't like the looks of it and gave it back to me. I then took a bite, and he made me open my mouth to prove that I'd eaten some of it.

3. Look it's mean to say, kind of, but it was funny and I had nothing to do with it so I'm going to put it on here anyway: Mr Bunches shot Sweetie with a toy gun. I was picking up the Babies!' toys before they went to bed, and I found the gun they have that shoots little propeller-like spinners at people. I loaded it up and was going to shoot it at The Boy but Mr Bunches wanted to play with it. So I gave it to him and he was looking at it, and said "Ready... set... go!" and then fired it, off to his right in a kind of random direction -- just as Sweetie tried to walk by him. The propeller-thing hit her in the cheek, and she got all upset... at me... for a second, ignoring my very-valid point that I'd had nothing to do with it at all.

She was okay, by the way, but I'm still feeling unjustly accused.

121 down, 10,829 to go:
Yep, I added a bunch more songs since getting my hard drive back, including today's song, This Too Shall Pass, by OK Go!, a song I first heard because I kept hearing about the video and how great it was. So I watched the video, and it was great, and the song was pretty good, too. The specific part of the song that got me is the piano part (played on bottles and glasses in the video), a part I liked so much I wanted to get the whole song, so I got the whole CD. Here's the video, so that the cycle can start over again with you:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ninety-Four, Part Twenty-Three: Wherein the place I got to did not seem a lot like the place I left.

Everyone has one year in their life that has a greater impact on them than any other year. Mine was 1994. From time to time, I'll recap that year. This is part 23 click here for a table of contents.

Among the things I always wanted to experience are some unusual goals. I've always wanted to live through a flood -- to see my town under two or three feet of water and people boating past my front door. I've always wanted to know what an earthquake feels like.

And I always wondered about jet lag, at least until I got to actually experience it.

Morocco is, surprisingly to me, only 5 hours ahead of the time I was used to. It seemed then, and seems now, like it should be more, like Morocco, because it is half-a-world away in space and something like three worlds away in culture, should be further off in time than just five hours. When it's morning in Wisconsin, it shouldn't (it feels like) be afternoon in Morocco. It should be, I don't know, two days later or something.

(I feel the exact opposite about Australia, which I believe is on the other side of the International Date Line, so that in Australia it's tomorrow, and not only that, but it's winter when it should be summer, and vice versa. That doesn't seem right for Australia, which is only a little bit different, overall, from the United States. Australia should have the same seasons as us, and be, say, five hours ahead or behind of Wisconsin, leaving "opposite seasons" and "claiming to be tomorrow when it's obviously today" to countries like Morocco and China, because then the time zones would serve as an accurate indication of how different the countries were from us.

We landed in Morocco at a time that I remember as "obviously in the morning," because our flight had taken off from New York City in the afternoon or evening, and we'd flown through the night to get to Morocco, and I'd slept for a while at least, and then woken up to this country where the sun was shining and the Atlantic Ocean was on the left, instead of on the right where it should have been.

So it felt like morning to me, but as I got off the plane at the airport in Rabat, I realized that something was wrong; the world looked not exactly the way it should have.

There are times when the world looks a certain way. An example that always springs to mind when I think of how the world looks at a given time is the "late fall sunshine." Late fall sunshine has a special quality to it: It's brighter and more direct than sunshine at other times of the year. It practically shoots down through the atmosphere, unhindered by leaves and other detritus of summer, and illuminates the ground like a spotlight. Shadows seem better-defined in the fall than they do at other times of year. The sky seems emptier. The whole business of Late Fall Sunshine appears to be both a threat and a mockery: It's sunshine that's too bright without making things seem warm at all. It's sunlight that doesn't leave comforting shadows to rest in on the ground. Instead, it's sunlight that appears to be on its last dregs before succumbing to winter.

While that's the best example I can think of for the way things look at certain times, all times have a certain look and feel to them, including morning. Little clues around us give signals to our body about the time of day and time of week and time of year, and if you were to fall asleep and I were to spirit you off to some other part of the world and wake you up, you could probably tell, pretty quickly, about what time of the day it was.

(I think that about what time of day it is and about what the weather will be like are precise enough measurements for almost all of humanity almost all of the time. While at times it's important to be specific about time -- like if I have a doctor's appointment at 2 p.m. - and at times it's important to know precisely what the weather will be like -- like if you're going to be sailing a boat -- most of the time if you say "evening" or "morning" you'll be fine. Society would be a little more laid back if we all said "I'm having a barbecue. Come over in the afternoon." And society would be more laid back, too, if we let weathermen avoid having 20 minutes of every newscast to fill, and instead allowed them to say "Tomorrow's weather will be a lot more like today, only a little moreso.")

When I landed in Morocco, that part of the brain designed to do that picked up on things being a little off and so even though I couldn't put my finger on it, I knew that it wasn't morning, and I began, that moment, to experience my first-ever jet lag.

Then again, maybe I'm overstating it. Maybe my subconscious had nothing to do with it; instead, maybe my conscious mind was just telling me that things were very very different, all of a sudden, as we left the airport and I saw things like this:
If you travel around America, and I suspect if you travel around much of Europe, and if you are an American and/or a European, then you are very unprepared, in my opinion, for the experience of landing in a completely foreign country. I don't mean in a sort-of-foreign country, or a different state. I mean completely foreign.

As an American traveling around the United States, things are never that much different. The scenery takes a long time to change in America. Drive from Wisconsin to Arizona, as I've done, and you'll spend a lot of time in gently-rolling-hills dotted with trees and suburbs, and slowly you'll realize that the hills have faded away and the ground is flatter; the trees are more sparse and there are more wheat-looking fields, tall grasses or corn or other plants. About when you realize that, the fields themselves will slowly merge into drier plains, almost-deserts, rocks and scrub and almost no trees, and wide vast expanses of land where you can see 10 miles to the horizon, and by the time you've absorbed that, you're in the mountains. But it all happens so slowly that it feels natural -- at least if you drive instead of flying.

But aside from the changes in the landscape, and maybe some architectural points, when you get where you're going it's going to seem a lot like where you left. The people will mostly look and dress the same. The language is the same. The food is the same. Turn on the TV and you'll see the same TV shows you watched that night. The newspaper is different but it still has a picture of your president on the cover. (And if you subscribe to USA Today, the newspaper may not even be different.)

Travel to a kind of foreign country and I expect that the similarities, again, aren't that big of a deal. I've only been to Canada, in this category, and then only just across the border (where Sweetie insulted the locals), so I'm not a good judge, and most of what I believe about foreign countries comes from Hugh Grant movies. But it doesn't seem to me to be earth-shattering if you get off a plane and the people still look like you and the buildings look like buildings and the food looks like food, even if in some of those places the people don't speak English. It just doesn't seem that far removed -- going to England, or Germany, it seems to me, would be like being in one of those episodes of The Twilight Zone where a guy wakes up and everyone is left-handed -- it takes him a while to realize it, and it's weird, but it's hardly that big a deal.

Before I went to Morocco, I'd never left the country at all, and so I wasn't prepared for real foreign, which looked like that picture above and like the other pictures in this post (they're my own pictures.)

I wasn't prepared for the place I got to, to be so different. The people were different, the cars were different, the plants were different, the architecture was different... nothing looked like it was supposed to look, and maybe my mind just looked at that and decided well, this is no good, we've got to adjust.

So it might not have been jet lag but instead cultural lag that had me feeling disoriented as we regrouped and got our luggage and headed off to an orientation to meet our host families and see where we'd be staying for the first week of the program.

That was one aspect I'd paid little to no attention to in signing up for this program -- one of many aspects I'd paid little to no attention to: That I'd be staying with a host family, that I'd move into a house with a Moroccan family for the first week before going to the dorms at the university where we'd stay.

The idea, apparently, was to really immerse us in Moroccan culture for the first week or so, get us to know some local people and give us a glimpse of Moroccan life before we began kind-of-being schooled and living like students again. But the fact that I'd be living with strangers hadn't registered on me, at all, until we were getting our stuff and finding out who we'd be living with and how, exactly this would work -- something I still wasn't entirely sure of as we drove through the capital city of Rabat, the group leaders heading to drop us off at our host-families houses (or, in my case, apartment).

I'd never heard of Rabat, either, before going to Morocco, and I'd like to say, now, looking back, that I remember all sorts of things about Rabat and learned a lot about it as the capital city of Morocco where I mostly stayed when I was there. But I knew then, and know now, almost nothing about Rabat, beyond this: It's a very pretty city. It looked like this:

When I drove down the main street, like California only with more Arabic influences. Everywhere I went in Morocco, it seemed, it was sunny and warm and bright and dry (I don't recall many cloudy days, and I don't recall rain at all.) I was there in the summer, and Morocco is in the same northern hemisphere as the U.S., so it was summer there. Morocco is more-or-less on the same latitude as Washington D.C. and Florida, so I suppose I should have expected the climate to be similar. I expect, based on reading things here and there, that the fact that Morocco lies on the eastern side of the Atlantic means something -- that the Gulf Stream or something affects its climate, but I don't know (or care) about those things, really.

I did like the way the city looked, as it sunk in to me. I liked all the white rock or brick used, I liked the way the trees and plants looked, and I liked the way the houses and buildings seemed so foreign -- blocky construction and no roofs or other accoutrements like I'd expect. I liked that some of the people, at least, were dressed differently -- foreignly. I tried to see everything as we went by, looking at the people and the signs in Arabic and the streets and the cars, and I was so intent on noticing everything that I didn't notice everything.

One thing I didn't notice right away was how dirty the city was -- especially for a capital city. I've now been to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Houston, Albuquerque, Washington, D.C., Chicago and New York City, among the major cities I've spent time in, and none of them were as dirty as any city I saw in Morocco. We may think that Americans litter a lot (and we probably do) but when Americans litter, it's not done with the same volume or casual abandon that the litter implied in Rabat and elsewhere in Morocco. I didn't notice it at first, but I would, over time, realize that there was garbage everywhere. In the streets, on the sidewalks, behind alleys, even floating in the ocean: At one point, I'd go to a beach near the village near the university where I stayed, and there was garbage, and a lot of it, floating in the water, plastic bags and bottles and gunk, all drifting there. I don't recall seeing public garbage cans or anything like that in Rabat, and certainly not on the beach. Here in the United States, I pass two or three garbage cans per block, and when I went to a beach in Florida two years ago, I didn't see a single loose piece of trash -- not even something blowing away carelessly or accidentally.

I didn't notice the garbage at first because there was so much else to notice. The first things that caught my eye were the things shown here in the pictures: A tower for a mosque, above all else. Mosque towers dominate the landscape and city-scapes of Morocco in a way that's hard to understand. It's not that they're more prevalent than churches in America; we have more churches around, even in a city like Madison, Wisconsin, than you could shake a stick at.

It might be that while we have lots of different styles of churches, from traditional steepled-building churches to giant, glass-fronted Mall-of-God style-buildings, mosques all appear to be about the same, so that they stand out more by being all similar, but that's not quite it. I think, instead, it's that the mosques are bigger and more ornate than almost every other building around them. Rabat was a low-slung city: there weren't many high-rises and there weren't many large-seeming buildings, so the mosque towers stood out (as they probably were intended to do) above the block-like buildings surrounding them.

(The actual mosque pictured at the top of this post is not in Rabat; it's the world's largest Mosque, located in Casablanca, a city we'd visit not long after arrival.)

The streets, too, seemed different. That was partly owing to the cars. Most of the cars looked different enough that, while I recognized them as cars, they weren't recognizable as cars I knew. This was 1994, which was about the time that all cars started looking more or less the same in the United States; the era of individualized cars had ended and every new car was becoming Ford-Taurus-shaped back in the U.S. But even without that trend, cars in the US were recognizable even to someone like me, who didn't know from cars.

Not so the cars in Morocco, which tended to be smaller and boxier than many "American" cars I saw, and which appeared, on the whole, to be more run-down and dustier and older than almost every car I'd seen back home. Much is made of the American tendency to over-cleanse and over-perfume; judging by commentary about it that I've read, Americans are obsessed with showering and cologne and body sprays and things, but I don't think I've ever seen anyone point out that the same thing applies to our cars, as a whole. Americans' cars are immaculately kept-up, compared to third-world cars. Our cars are newer and cleaner and bigger, and it can't all be because Morocco has deserts there and is a pretty arid country; even in the Southwest of the U.S., cars almost always appear shiny and new and freshly-washed, or as close to that as possible. I associate (probably because my parents taught me to do this) dirty cars with being lower class, the same way I associate an unkempt yard and loud arguments with being low class. So to my eye, arriving in Rabat, the entire city appeared to be made up of low class people.

Then there were the plants -- those giant palm trees, completely unlike almost everything I'd ever seen. To that time, my travels had been confined to the US. While I'm sure that when I went to Florida with my family when I was 12, I must have seen palm trees (because they have those in Florida, I believe), I don't recall seeing this size of palm trees or the number of palm trees that they had in Rabat. (I also may not recall seeing palm trees in Florida because that vacation was marred by one of my parents' more-or-less continuous fights, a fight that got so severe that with three days left in the vacation my parents were not speaking to each other and were threatening to get divorced; our family drove home from Florida in a rush, separately from the aunt-and-uncle family we'd traveled with, and most of the trip home was done in silence as my parents implacably hated each other across the country. That was how many of our family vacations ended.)

The palm trees, so different from the deciduous and pine trees I'd grown up around, marked this as truly foreign (and warm) country, and the lushness of the plants around them, too, seemed to me to be tropical and thus foreign.

Among the mosques and cars and buildings walked people that were dressed differently than me and had different skin color than me, for the most part, making me a minority among them and further making the entire world seem exotic -- the styles ranged from very Arabic, robes and fezzes and the like, to just sort of exotic, the way foreigners appear kind of lame and exotic at the same time by wearing styles that appear similar to ours but are subtly off-key -- the shirts are the wrong color, or have the logo of a rock band that broke up three years ago, or the jeans have weird stitching. Nobody looked like the people I was used to seeing when I drove down the street. I'd only recently spent 5 months, remember, in Washington D.C.; Washington D.C. in 1994 was a city populated by 95% twenty-something white males in ties and white shirts. Almost everyone in Washington D.C. looked almost exactly like me. In Rabat, the only person who looked like me was me.

All of that kept me from noticing little things like the garbage. It was too different, too new.

But I also didn't notice the garbage at first, possibly, because I didn't want to. I was focusing on the excitement of being in a new country, a different country, and on how exciting things were going to be here -- how I was going to see amazing sights and do amazing things and learn a new language. I watched the buildings and cafes and shops and mosques go by and focused on them, remembering that I was the first person in my family ever to step foot on the African continent, the first Pagel ever to go to Morocco (or anywhere in Africa, and Africa really embodies the spirit of the exotic in my mind.)

I focused on those things so that I wouldn't focus on the fact that, as I said, I was going to have to spend the entire next seven days living with strangers who didn't (maybe?) speak my language. They were driving me to drop me off at my host family's house, and I did everything I could to try to ignore that fact. I didn't want to stay with strangers for a week -- I didn't want to meet strangers or talk to anyone, really.

What I wanted, at that moment, was to simply get out and walk around and acclimate myself to Morocco: Look at stores and things, take pictures, maybe try (hesitantly) a little local food or drink, get used to the country the way I would get used to a pool that's not quite the right temperature. I wasn't going to get that chance, though: I was going to get thrown in -- headfirst, as it were.

"Leaf: The Game." Watch for it in the 2012 Olympics. (3 Good Things From 4/19/10).

Pictured at right: Mr Bunches playing a rousing game of Leaf with me on Sunday. "Leaf" is a complicated game in which one person (generally me) picks up a handful of leaves from the stairwell. The other person (generally Mr Bunches, with an assist from Mr F at times) says "Ready, Set, Go," at which point I throw the leaves in the air and they rain down on us.

Sometimes, Mr Bunches steps out of the stairwell and makes
me throw the leaves on my own head and all I can think at that time is "I wonder how many spiders I just dropped onto my face."

To shake off thoughts like that, here's my 3 Good Things from yesterday:

1. The Boy is OKAY! We had quite a medical scare yesterday, as The Boy had to be rushed for emergency treatment that Sweetie and I cruelly tried to deny him because we don't care.

The Boy plays rugby, and about a week ago came home with a large bruise on his leg that he iced up for a while. It's an ugly bruise, but it's just a bruise. (Or so we thought...) Since getting the bruise, The Boy managed to (a) go out with his friends, then (b) play the entire rugby game Friday night, then (c) go out with his friends on Saturday, then (d) rake our yard on Sunday and go out with his friends... all of which led us to continue our uncaring/cruel (choose one) belief that the bruise was just a bruise.

But yesterday morning, at 8 a.m., Sweetie got an alarming phone call from The Boy, who reported that his friends, at school, were telling him he should get his leg looked at because (in The Boy's words) "It might be blood poisoning."* (*Note: Not a real thing.) Sweetie cruelly/uncaringly (choose one) opted to not excuse The Boy from school but instead said she'd make a doctor's appointment for him to have the bruise (or so we thought) looked at.

But that could be weeks away -- maybe months, if Obama gets his way and the Death Panels gear up -- so The Boy took matters into his own hands. Following the obviously-more-knowledgeable advice of his friends (the medical expertise of your average high school senior is unparalleled) he went to the school nurse, and then reported to Sweetie in the afternoon that "the nurse said he should go to a doctor," because The Boy had what he reported to be "something starting with an h."

Sweetie, who was (as I understand it) very busy not caring about whether or not The Boy lived or died, told The Boy to go to Urgent Care. The Boy drove himself there (heedless of the potential consequences of driving a car when his leg had "something with an h/potential blood poisoning"), taking time on the way only to call in sick to work (because of the potential danger to his leg, remember), and got in to see a doctor, who finally -- Thank God! -- gave a diagnosis.

"It's a hematoma," The Boy reported to Sweetie, who called me (I'd been awaiting reports, almost breathlessly; the only thing that got in the way of my actually being breathless is that, like Sweetie, I too was very busy not caring whether The Boy lived or died.) Not being a medical expert, I had to look up hematoma, which I did immediately...

...which is when I learned it's a bruise.

I'm still not 100% convinced that The Boy is going to pull through, though. And I'm sure he's getting a second opinion today -- probably right around 7th hour when his Spanish quiz is scheduled.

2. Pizza for dinner, leftover pizza for lunch today. Look, pizza is going to make this list every single time it comes up, okay? Just deal with it.

3. The article about George Steinmetz in last week's New Yorker. Last Friday, as soon as I got my allowance, I downloaded the book The Solitude of Prime Numbers onto my Kindle. I was going to start reading it right away that night but I got wrapped into the last week's issue of The New Yorker first, and the latest article that I read was about photographer George Steinmetz, who uses a parasail to take pictures of various places in the world. The article is a fascinating portrait of him, and led me to find Steinmetz's website, which has pictures like this:
That's a picture of a house of one of the Tree People of Indonesian New Guinea -- a group of people who use cannibalism to punish the sorcerors they believe cause death among them, and who live in trees.

Why, I can't help but wonder, do we have 300,000,000 reality shows in which some guy goes somewhere to eat something gross, but not a single show about the Cannibal Sorcery-Punishing Tree People of Indonesia?

Anyway, the article was so great that it completely occupied my time before I fell asleep, and it was so great that I wouldn't have started reading Prime Numbers right away anyway, because I had to let the article soak in and anything I read immediately after it would seem weak by comparison.

Go to George Steinmetz's site, here.

120 down, 10,625 to go: I actually have this song on my iPod, but Sweetie did not take me up on my challenge to her to have it playing when The Boy arrived home from Medical Emergency 2010. It's Bruises, by Chairlift.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sure,they've made a billion dollars, but did they cook a GIANT BURGER? I think not. (3 good things from the past weekend.)

I'm typing this on my tiny Netbook as I wait for the seminar I'm at to move on from solving technical issues. You'd think a seminar about using computers in a law practice would have computers that work and people that know how to use them... but you'd think wrong. Here's 3 Good Things from the weekend that I'm focusing on to avoid the boredom...

1. Giant Burger Is Back! Pictured to the right: Giand Burger! Shown sitting on our dinner table last night (with Sweetie's hand in there for comparison's sake), "Giant Burger" is a dinner I make from time to time, having come up with the concept after seeing a news story about... yep, a giant burger. I thought to myself, I bet I could make one of those, and so I did, experimenting with how to cook a giant slab of ground beef (harder than it looks.)

Giant Burger is a whole loaf of Hawaiian Sweet Bread, three pounds of ground beef, half a head of lettuce, four slices of marble cheddar cheese, 1000 Island dressing, and butter on the bottom bun. (Onions, tomatoes, and pickles on the side.) It's a meal for the whole family, but it's more than that: It was also the inspiration for the restaurant I hope to open someday: GIANT!, I call it, a diner-style restaurant whose gimmick is that everything is available in either regular size, or GIANT size -- everything, even, say, French Fries. I like to picture a family of four sitting down to a table with a giant burger, about four giant french fries, and a giant soda.

You know you'd go eat there.

2. The Boy scored a try, or something, in his rugby game. Friday night, we went to see The Boy play in his latest rugby game, a sport he's taken up recently. I assume he took it up because he likes to collect bruises and swollen ankles, as that's the primary result I'd seen before Friday.

The game itself was incomprehensible, in part because I was in charge of monitoring Mr F and Mr Bunches, who were more interested in roaming around and playing on the slide than they were in watching what appeared to be 35 large boys wrestling each other, occasionally in the presence of a big football. But it was also in part incomprehensible because rugby is incomprehensible. The Boy scored what I would call a touchdown, because I'm a good American, but what in rugby is called a try. And unlike touchdowns, trys are only worth 5, not 6, points. I assume it's because of the metric system.

The Boy's team lost, I was told, and the final score was, so far as I could make out, something to something.

3. I finished Season 3 of Lost! It's amazing what I can do when I set my mind to it. With a yard that needed raking and landscaping, and tons of work at the office, and Babies! who still aren't really potty-trained, and a messy car, I was able to focus this weekend and get through the final two episodes of Season 3 of Lost, paving the way for Season 4, which I expect to finish around October, 2022. (By then, Lost will be beamed directly into my skull by the Government's Office of Televisionry).

Sadly -- [SPOILER ALERT! FOR THE MAYBE-ONE-PERSON WHO IS FURTHER BEHIND THAN ME IN WATCHING LOST] these were the episodes where Charlie died. Charlie was one of my favorite characters on the show. I will never forgive you, Mikhail -- and also, Jeez, Charlie and Desmond, don't you think to check if a guy's really dead?

BONUS Thing That May Or May Not Be Good: Remember how I couldn't find my keys last week, and had to get a locksmith out to my house and tip him? Last night, I got home from swimming laps at the health club, and went to set up my coffeepot so it would be ready to brew coffee this morning. When I opened up the reservoir in the coffeemaker where the water gets poured in, I saw sitting in there my car keys... which must have been sitting there since last Wednesday night, when Mr Bunches must have thrown them in there while playing during clean-up.

(Mr Bunches likes to splash things into water, a hobby that usually is not all that harmful unless you don't want a Hot Wheel in your coffee.)

So I'm not only out $145, but for the last five days I've been drinking my keys and probably have some sort of weird metal poisoning now.

119 Down, 10,626 to Go: I found the band Locksley by listening to the Slow Club station on Pandora, and liked their song Don't Make Me Wait. So I got the CD, and listened to it yesterday, which is when I realized that their song She Does was the song for a commercial for CNN/HLN:

So I then went and read up on them and learned that Locksley, whose members are from Madison, Wisconsin, has already been on TV a few times, has two songs licensed to TV, has another song licensed for a trailer, and overall have probably had far more success than any band who self-released their first album could have expected.

Plus, their music is cool.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Now is the time for all good men to rise up and demand they get to pay for their carry-on luggage. (Publicus Proventus)

What's a Publicus Proventus? Click here.

Senator Charles Schumer wants you to be able to not think, and you probably support him in that.

Chuck Schumer isn't acting alone; he's got five other Democratic senators backing his bill to impose a new tax on airline luggage charges; Schumer is just the most prominent of the Overhead Bin Six (as only I am calling them.)

Having just barely passed what just barely passes for health care reform, and with actual problems still actually bothering our country, the Overhead Bin Six are mustering up support for S. 3195, a bill that is being promoted as forbidding the charging of fees for carry-on luggage.

I say being promoted as that because the bill doesn't actually do that; instead, it says that if passed, the Secretary of Transportation is to then make rules that would prohibit air carriers from "from charging any fees for carry-on baggage that falls within the restrictions imposed by the air carrier with respect to the weight, size, or number of bags."

In other words, the airlines will still be able to charge you for carry-ons -- just not those carry-ons that match or are less than the airline's posted weight restrictions and the like for carry-ons. More simply put, if United says you can carry on a 10-pound, purse-sized bag, and yours is 11-pounds or larger than a purse, you can be charged for that, even after S.3195.

S.3195 would not require that airlines allow carry-ons, at all, and doesn't, as currently written, place a lower limit on the carry-on sizes airlines can post as their required carry-ons. That's part one of what makes it a bad law: Not just that it's being promoted disingenuously, but that it doesn't even do the thing it promises to do.

Why pass a law if it's not going to do what it's supposed to do? Why pass bad laws?

One reason why people pass bad laws is because of the need to do something. Whenever there's a problem that rises to the level of national attention, there is sure to be a law passed addressing that problem, usually hastily and usually in such a fashion as to make no difference, in the long run.

(We can expect, in a matter of days, the proposal of at least one law banning volcanic explosions along the Atlantic.)

Knee-jerk laws that get passed all the time. Like Laci & Conner's Law. A federal law that was passed in the wake of the Laci Peterson murder, Laci & Conner's Law, otherwise known as the "Unborn Victims of Violence Act 2004," was a federal law that made an unborn child a victim if the unborn child was implicated in some 60 different federal crimes.

That is, Laci & Conner's Law made some crimes a little more criminal - -it added a second victim to the victims of the 60 crimes that already existed. So if, for example, you robbed a woman at gunpoint and that was somehow a federal crime, Laci & Conner's Law made it a little worse to do that if the woman was also pregnant.

Laci & Conner's Law was one well-known knee-jerk reaction law that really did nothing. S.3195 is another, and like most bad laws, it not only doesn't do anything (at best) but it makes things a little worse (at worst.)

S. 3195 makes things a little worse, both in how it's being promoted, and in what it will do to society (at least a little) if it passes.

First, how it's being promoted -- as a bill to end carry-on fees -- is, as I said, disingenuous. If S.3195 gets enough publicity, and passes, and people still have to pay carry-on fees this summer, that's going to undermine their trust in government just a little more, and I'm not sure that government can take that hit, given that 98.9% of the US thinks "health care reform" is a code phrase for "they gave the IRS permission to poison our well water."

The promotion of S.3195 as a carry-on-fee-ender also hides the real debate, which is this: what taxes should airlines pay? Airlines are taxed, as you probably don't know, on ticket revenue. Seven-and-a-half cents of every dollar you spend on the ticket for an airline goes to taxes. But zero percent of what you pay in fees -- for carry-ons, check-ins, food, and aisle seats -- goes to taxes.

All you people who are opposed to government taxes -- you're in favor of carry-on fees, right? Because that's where the fees come from: airlines figured out they could pay fewer taxes by lowering their ticket prices -- and then charge you the same amount of money by calling some of the price of flying luggage fees.

Previously, if Spirit charged you $200 to fly, but let you check your luggage for free, you paid $200 to Spirit, which turned around and paid $15 to the government.

Now, if Spirit charges you $150 to fly, but makes you pay $50 to check your luggage, you pay $200 to Spirit -- your flight is the same cost-- but Spirit only hands $11.25 to the government. Spirit just increased their profits by $3.75 per $200 flight, without doing anything differently.

So you anti-tax, anti-government, pro-small business people, you're okay with that, right?

Schumer's disingenous S.3195 doesn't address that problem at all: It doesn't engage the public, or the government, in a debate about how much taxes should be imposed on airlines, and what types of airline services should be taxed (why are luggage charges not taxed? When I go to a movie theater, I pay a tax on the ticket and the popcorn, don't I?) and it doesn't inform the public about what's really at stake. s.3195 won't do anything about the airlines' difficulties in competing with each other, won't do anything about the price wars, and won't improve the government's bottom line (although at least it likely won't wreck the airlines' bottom lines, either, as they'll simply adjust their carry-on regulations to allow for profit-making.)

S.3195 won't do any of those thing -- so what will it do, this bad law that doesn't deserve to be discussed, let alone passed?

It'll make you stupider.

Is that a word? I can never remember if it's stupid, stupider, stupidest, or stupid, more stupid, most stupid. Looking at it here on my computer screen, I'm inclined to the latter set, so let me say that again:

It'll make you more stupid.

Schumer doesn't advertise the bill that way, but that's what he's aiming at: relieving you from thinking, while not relieving you from paying any money.

What Schumer's bill would do is bundle up costs and hide them, which is almost the exact opposite of what a lot of other government bills want to do, and which is almost the exact opposite direction society was heading in.

Or, at least, the direction I thought society was heading in: I thought society was heading towards more transparency in prices, towards more freedom to choose what services we wanted to pay for, towards a greater latitude in determining just which portions of what thing we wanted to buy.

Am I saying Schumer's bill is anti-freedom?

Yes. That's exactly what I'm saying. And if you're against carry-on luggage charges, you're anti-freedom. You're unAmerican if you don't think airlines should be able to charge you for your luggage, for your dinner, for everything they can think of to charge you -- even your oxygen, if it comes to that.

Also, if you think you're not already paying for those things, then you're dumb.

For some time now, in America (and maybe in other so-called countries) a debate has been sort-of brewing about bundling vs. unbundling -- about buying the whole cow, or just the milk you need. It's been sort-of brewing because it's not high enough on anyone's radar, or discussed in just the right way, to claim that the bundling debate is raging.

But it almost is. America is almost to the point where we can talk about bundling vs. unbundling, about knowing what we really pay for things, about the actual value of the actual things we're buying.

One of the first instances of the bundling debate, and one that from time to time rears up, still, is found in cable TV (and, now, satellite TV, and, soon, satellite radio, I'm sure.)

When you subscribe to cable TV, or satellite TV, or satellite radio, you get in all cases a basic package -- some 50 or 75 or 100 or so channels that come with every subscription to that service. We have DirecTV, and we get our local channels, a bunch of ESPNs, some MTVs and VH1s, about 100 channels that show Law & Order reruns all the time, and from that bunch I watch only a handful: mostly CNN and Headline News, Comedy Central, and ABC, with occasional forays onto ESPN during football season. There are probably about 150 channels I've never watched.

Whenever people think about that, they tend to ask this question: Why should I have to pay for all those channels I never watch? Why can't I just pay for the channels I do watch? That's a fairly-frequently debated topic among legislators and commentators who pay attention to things; called a cafeteria plan, there is every so often a proposal, somewhere, to require cable TV providers (and, probably, satellite TV providers and someday satellite radio providers) to let you pick and choose your channels, and pay only for those channels you want to get. The cafeteria plan supporters claim that things should be set up to only let them pay for the things they want. They're pro-freedom, in one sense: the freedom to not pay for those things you don't want.

Cafeteria plans are related to the iPhone problem -- not that anyone (but me) made that connection when Apple denied you the right to choose your wireless phone provider. When iPhones came out, Apple had (and still has, I think) an exclusive contract with AT&T -- a not-very-popular cell phone provider. That got some people, people who were used to being able to choose their cell phone provider, upset -- so upset that some hacked their phones to let them be used on a different provider.

Apple shouldn't have cared too much about that -- they had the money for the iPhone, right? So aside from honoring their contract with AT&T, Apple shouldn't have been bent out of shape over a couple of 21st-Century David Lightmans soldering their iPhones into another network. But Apple was -- and they fixed it those people who'd "unlocked" their phones. (Look at the word: unlocked is the word we chose to describe people who hacked the code on their Apple-created phone to use it with an unauthorized network. Unlocked. Not hacked or pirated: unlocked. Because Apple was keeping us from the goodies.)

Apple disabled any iPhones that had been hacked into other networks -- showing where Apple stands on the bundling debate: Apple firmly believes that you should be forced to buy the whole package -- so firmly that they wrecked the phones of anyone who dared disagree.

It was a curious stance for Apple, given that Apple was responsible for creating one of the biggest cafeteria plans in the entire world : Apple unbundled the music business -- freeing consumers like me and you from the tyranny not only of the record labels and radio, but from the despotic grip of retailers and even getting us out from under the iron-heeled boots of albums.

Apple's iTunes is one of the greatest unbundlings ever: by making a wildly-successful online store that sold music (and now movies and TV shows) primarily by the single, Apple began the unraveling of the music business (and, for good measure, the TV-and-movie business, too.)

iTunes was created to provide something to sell to iPod users, because Apple understood that people like me were not going to buy a digital music player when we weren't really sure what digital music was, but its effects have gone far beyond that to change the way people think about music, from the way they buy it to the way they listen to it to the way it gets made -- and that, in turn, has gotten people thinking about the way they buy everything, it seems.

Since iTunes came out and unbundled music, sales of singles have steadily increased, while sales of albums (both digitally and hard-copied CDs) have trended downward. People buy only the tracks they like off the album -- ignoring the filler tracks that have been pasted onto the album to bulk it out.

iTunes did more than resurrect the single and spare music lovers the doldrums of those five tracks per album that Radiohead clearly was just phoning in. It also rejuvenated the indie music business and made it more possible for bands to break directly in -- because it made iTunes made digital music popular and digital music meant fewer costs of delivery, so bands could set up their own websites and popularize their own music and make money and get famous (and make money) more easily. Without the need to support shipping 100,000 CDs around, bands could lower overhead and escape from major labels, letting fans share their music digitally. (Arctic Monkeys are a famous example of a band that grew through the Internet.) As of now, you can get your record onto iTunes for about $35. Anyone with a guitar and a song in their heart can have their songs available for purchase by the masses.

So is bundling a good or bad thing? That depends on who you're talking to -- and on how much Chuck Schumer needs to get on the news by glomming onto today's hot topic. Bundling cable services is unpopular -- cable customers complain about the high cost of bundling, and about the high cost of cable in general, and blame bundling for that. But it's not clear that unbundling, that a cafeteria plan, would save any money and we might be worse off for it.

Opponents of the cafeteria plan say that forcing cable companies (and DirecTV and the like) to let you pick-and-choose your channels say that it'll result in the demise of channels that can't muster enough viewers to survive on their own in an unbundled world. Less-popular channels rely on subsidies, as it were, from the ESPNs and MTVs of the world, and if we unbundle them, those channels may go the way of many magazines -- magazines dropped like flies in the past few years.

Is that a good, or a bad thing? Nobody's talking about it in that way -- nobody's saying it's good, or bad to have magazines folding. Should we, as cable subscribers, have to support channels we don't like? If so, then why aren't magazines bundled, as well? I subscribe to Entertainment Weekly, which is published by Time, Inc. Time lets me choose to only subscribe to EW, and doesn't force me to also buy People, Essence, and Sports Illustrated. If you're in favor of bundling cable channels, then presumably you'd be okay with Time refusing to sell you EW unless you also subscribe -- for a hefty, higher, fee-- to all its other magazines, right?

But if you're in favor of unbundling them, of letting people pick and choose channels the way they choose magazines and books, then aren't you saying that it's okay for those low-interest channels to die?

(I fall into the latter camp: I say let 'em die, because if there are good TV shows on them, the shows will be picked up by other channels. And if there's no good shows on them, then why do they exist? And I say that knowing full well that most of the TV and movies I like are wildly unpopular with the public: my shows are always getting cancelled.)

That's a debate that should be had -- and you'd need information to properly choose, wouldn't you? Because unbundling things, allowing us to pick and choose the services we want -- whether by market force or government fiat -- is only effective if we have the information that we need to make a smart choice, and so far, for cable TV, we don't know what the choice is.

There's no guarantee, remember, that unbundling your cable TV would result in lower prices for you. First off, you may decide to get so many channels that you end up paying the same, or more, than you do now. Think about it: You'd get the channels you watch all the time, but what about those channels you only watch sometimes? What about channels on which you only like one show? If you like The Daily Show, would you subscribe to Comedy Central just for that show, if that's the only show you watch on there? (Or would you demand to unbundle your channel, buying only those shows you want on a pay-as-you go plan?)

An additional point: you don't know how much those channels would charge you, do you? Everyone's thinking, I suppose, that if their cable bill is $100 per month, and they have 100 channels, that all the channels would be $1 each. But a certain amount of that $100 is your cable company's profit, so your prices wouldn't drop automatically. And the channels themselves could up their price: right now, you get ESPN added into your cable for the cost of basic cable; ESPN is a basic-cable channel everywhere I've ever lived.

But if you unbundled cable, wouldn't ESPN be free to jack up their prices, knowing full well that they'd have sports lovers by the horns? So if you like the popular channels, you might end up paying more for them than you do now.

If you think I'm so wrong, why don't you go see a first-run movie on a Friday night? It's more expensive to see a movie the day it opens, on a Friday, than it is to see that exact same movie the next day at 1 p.m., when the daytime ticket prices will be lower, and it's even cheaper to wait a few weeks and see it at a discount theater. Wait long enough, and you'll see the movie for free. People charge more for the popular stuff at the popular times. (Restaurants do this, too: a restaurant near me lets kids eat free on Tuesdays, in effect charging me less if I come on a Tuesday night, which I assume is an unpopular night to go out to eat.) So why would we assume that ESPN, or MTV, or Comedy Central, wouldn't charge more for their channel if they could. Remember earlier this year when ABC and Cablevision got into a fight about fees and ABC pulled itself off of Cablevision just before the Oscars aired... on ABC? What if you didn't have Cablevision to fight for you and instead had to deal with ABC about fee increases?

You'd be in the same position that the government put you in with airlines, that's where you'd be, which is how I've worked my way back to Chuck Schumer and S.3195 and how he wants to keep you ignorant and deny you your freedom of choice.

Back in 1978, the airline industry was deregulated via the cleverly-named "Airline Deregulation Act." The Act got the government out of the airline industry, allowing the market to operate relatively unfettered. Phased in over 4 years, or less, the Act worked phenomenally well, depending on who you ask. When the government studied the effects of the Act, back in 1996, it found that the average price of flights -- remember, averages are a horrible way to measure anything, but they're all I've got here -- dropped by 9% over that time. In 1996, it was cheaper to fly than in 1978 -- as much as 30% cheaper, in some cases.

Great! We win! We average consumers won, right?

Or did we?

Dropping fares -- decreasing fare prices -- means lower profits for the airlines. And lower profits means more troubles for airlines, especially when (as happened in the 00's) fuel prices begin to rise superfast. Profits become razor-thin, and airlines become desperate.

Desperate enough to charge you for your carry-on.

Imagine, for a second, if your income had not risen for 18 years, and in fact had dropped 30% in that time, while your costs kept up with the price of everything else. You might grin and bear it for a while, especially if there are lots of other people ready to step in and do your job for you. But if then your costs skyrocket, if your costs shoot through the roof and you're going to lose your shirt, you've got to do something, and what are you going to do, change jobs? No way -- so you look at your company manual, and note that it says that you'll be paid a salary to do your work... but it doesn't say that you can't demand additional compensation for other stuff you do around the office. So now, when Ted from Accounting comes by and asks you to run some numbers, you say "Sure, Ted, but that'll be $20."

That's what the airlines are doing.

And it's not a bad thing, not if you ask me.

Because the airlines are unbundling -- they're breaking apart their services and letting you pick and choose what you want to pay for. And they're giving you the information you need to really make a choice, to affect what you want. They're letting you decide whether you want to buy the whole album, or just get that one really catchy single.

We took a trip to Florida two years ago. To take the trip, I booked in advance a flight-and-hotel deal, four tickets to Florida with a hotel and a rental car all lumped in together. I looked at the price of the package deal and thought "That seems good" and clicked on it and bought it.

I never went and checked out what the price of each individual component was. I never scouted around for competing airlines and competing dates to see how much four tickets would cost. I didn't call Hertz to ask how much a minivan for a week was. I didn't compare other hotels in the area (let alone house rentals and other options.) I just saw, clicked, and bought.

(In part, I did that because I'm willing to pay what I call The Complication Tax, but that's for another day and another Publicus Proventus.)

When it came time to take the trip, out of curiousity, I did go add up some of the figures I was able to get, and realized I'd overpaid. The cost of a hotel room and a minivan and flights for four was less expensive than the package I'd bought. I hadn' t caught on because the information wasn't readily available to me, and there was no breakdown in the vacation package I bought: It didn't say "X dollars for this including A dollars for the hotel and B dollars for the car and C dollars for the flights." If it had, I could have considered some of those figures: Does that seem right for a car? Could I find a hotel cheaper somewhere else?

I didn't have the information, so I just paid my bundled price and spent more than I would have otherwise.

Here's another example: Everytime I go to a fast-food place, or the movies, I see their "value meals" or "combo offers" or whatever package they have that promises to save me money. McDonald's has my favorite "Value Meal," the Number Two: 2 cheeseburgers, fries, and a soda. And whenever I see that -- or any value deal at a restaurant-- I take a moment to scan the menu and mentally add up the price of the items separately to see if it's worth it. If it's $2.99 for the meal, and $0.99 for each cheeseburger, plus $0.99 for the soda, then it makes sense to get the meal, because I'm getting the fries for free (even though I don't really care for the fries.) But if it was $3.99 for that meal, I might not buy it -- because then I'm getting a minimal discount, if any. I might opt to skip the not-so-popular-with-me fries, getting just the burgers and soda and saving a buck.

That's what airlines are doing nowadays: they're supplying the information you need to make a smart choice, not only about which airline to fly, but also about what services you want on that airline. When you look at ticket prices nowadays, you're (mostly) seeing the bottom-line, absolute-best-offer ticket price, from airline to airline: the price you see is (mostly) the absolute bare minimum cost of flying, with no extras, no meals, checked-luggage, extra-leg-room-seating, or other options thrown in.

That makes it easy to choose among airlines: I can compare airlines and know that this one has the lower price, and not worry about whether the lower price is because this one doesn't serve dinner and that one does. And I may not want to pay for dinner -- and I may not want to pay for your dinner. If the airline serves dinners to all its passengers, and the cost of that dinner is built into the ticket instead of billed separately (note that I don't say dinner is free because it's not free,it's built into the ticket price), if that's true, then I'm paying for a dinner I don't want -- just because you want it.

I'm buying People magazine with my EW simply because you want People with your EW.

Cafeteria pricing, unbundled airline services let me pay for what I want, and let you pay for what you want. Want a flight with a meal and to check three bags? Go ahead -- but don't make me pay the same price as you when I'm not going to eat on the plane and I'm only checking one bag.

I always bring a carry-on with me onto the plane -- usually with my laptop, 1-2 books, a change of clothes, some snacks, and my iPod, plus some DVDs. If you don't carry anything on, or if you only bring your book with you, why should you pay the same price as me?

About a week ago, I saw an article that I didn't read all the way through but I liked the concept of: It asked whether it was cheaper, these days, to ship your luggage to your destination than to fly it with you on the plane, given luggage fees. (This is that article.) In some cases, it is cheaper to ship your luggage and have it meet you there when you arrive -- and that's information you may want when you shop for an airline too. Should you pay the luggage fee, or ship your bags?

The deregulation of the airlines led directly to this point, where airlines are harder and harder pressed to make money while still providing what we're hearing is a vital service in the economy these days. The airlines' choice, opting to break apart the cost of flying and charge you for the stuff you actually use, or want, is an indirect, but beneficial, consequence of that deregulation: it promotes transparency and makes you think. With the pricing the way it is, you'll think about how many suitcases you actually need, about whether it's worth it to eat on the airplane or in the airport before you leave, and about how to get you, and your luggage, where you're going in the first place.

This cafeteria plan pricing in airlines promotes competition, too -- among airlines, sure, by seeing who can lower ticket prices (while still getting you to pay), but also among other travel alternaties. Amtrak, last I heard, doesn't charge you for luggage and has plenty of leg room. Hertz will come to your house and pick you up, and won't care how many suitcases you throw into the minivan. FedEx will fly your luggage separately from you -- and deliver it to your hotel, so you don't have to lug it through the terminal yourself.

And you have all this freedom, and information. You know how much you're actually paying for the things you actually want...

... at least until the Overhead Bin Six get their way. If S.3195 passes, you won't have to think any more -- you'll be able to just pay the full price, without ever considering whether you want the french fries or whether it's worth it. You won't know how much of your ticket price is flight, and how much is luggage, and how much is leg room -- and you won't have the choice to not get those things.

S.3195 won't stop the airlines from charging you for carry-on luggage, not the way it's written. But if it did, that'd be worse, because if it actually worked (it won't), then S.3195 will take away your information, and your right to choose what services you want. S.3195, if it works (it won't, trust me), would make you buy People everytime you bought the SI Swimsuit issue. It'll make you always use AT&T for your iPhone. You'll have to buy the whole crummy Radiohead album, each and every time, if S.3195 passes, and if it worked the way Chuck Schumer pretends it will.

It's a strange world where being in favor of paying to carry my laptop onto the plan makes me a true patriot, but that's the world we live in now. If you're a free-market, competitive, freedom-loving, small-business loving American, then you're supporting the airlines' ability to charge you for the services they use-- and you're supporting your, and my, and even Chuck Schumer's, right to know what we're being charged and what our options are.

If you're not any of those things, then all I can say is that I hope you enjoy overpaying for your flights from here on out, and, also, I'm not going to share my armrest with you.